The Flow Never Stops
Under McCormick, the city has been increasing the sewage rate gradually, by about 4 percent a year. No individual increase was so big that the citizens would take to the streets in protest-indeed, the project enjoys unanimous support on City Council. But they're already adding up to real money. When the increases began four years ago, customers paid $2.35 per 100 cubic feet. By the time the last scheduled hike takes effect in 2014, the cost will be $3.27. The result is that even as the rest of the city budget shrinks, the wastewater budget is flush-McCormick says it has $39 million in cash reserves and user fees are generating an extra $5 million a year above operating costs.
At the planned rate of spending, the reserves will be exhausted sometime next year--leaving the city needing to borrow close to $100 million. Despite the current credit crunch, city administrator Roger Fraser emails, he anticipates "no particular problems getting the bonds approved by council or sold. Standard & Poor's just upgraded our rating (on a storm water issue) from A+ to A++."
"We're aware these will be extremely expensive projects," McCormick acknowledges, "and we're trying to find help paying for them. . . . We will pursue all avenues to reduce the costs to our users." She says the department has applied for federal stimulus money, "but we think bridges and streets are going to receive those funds--which we think is good. The Stadium [Boulevard] bridge is a forty-million-dollar project that needs to be done soon, or it'll be so restricted by weight it'll be a walkway."